Vocational stats

Vocational stats

In the thread on the Tridentine Mass and altar girls in Arlington, Virginia, the topic of numbers of priestly vocations came up. In the July 2005 issue of Catholic World Report we ran the article “Priestly Vocations in America: A Look at the Numbers” by Jeff Ziegler. He examined the statistics for 2004 from all US dioceses, ranking them based on the ratio of seminarians to number of Catholics in the diocese and came up with some interesting numbers. The ratio didn’t seem to depend on the perceived orthodoxy of the bishop. Some dioceses who’ve had liberal bishops for many years have a higher ratio of seminarians. Read the whole article, which is now in the Bettnet Forum, and then download the PDF of the vocation-rank tables.

The relevant information on Arlington is this:


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Likewise, the Diocese of Arlington had 42 seminarians in 1995. By 1998-the year Bishop John Keating died-that number had fallen to 32, with a ratio of one seminarian to 10,200 Catholics (a ratio that would rank 62nd today). The number of Arlington seminarians has continued to fall under Bishop Keating’s successor, Bishop Paul Loverde, and now stands at 23, for a 107th-place ranking.

We plan on doing a follow-up on the 2005 figures this year.

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  • Does the “number of Catholics” in the diocese refer to the number of practising Catholics or simply Catholics whose names are “on the books”??

    If it’s the latter, you may find that this distorts your ratios. In some parts of the US, there are large numbers of “cultural” Catholics who rarely set foot in a Church. New England and New York spring to mind but I’m sure other urban areas are also affected.

    Another issue which you may wish to factor into these ratios, especially in the light of recent scandals, is the….shall we say…..sexual orientation of some of these candidates. It seems quite conceivable to me that some seminaries may have attracted significant numbers of homosexuals and this may be one reason why heterodox and liberal bishops have numbers which look good.

    It’s worth remembering that not all of these seminarians are likely to be solid, doctrinally orthodox young men who hold chastity and the Vatican’s recent instruction in high regard.

  • The numbers for Cincinnati and Cleveland are way up, as many as eight or ten a year in each. I know the new rector in Cincy; he used to be vice-rector at North American College in Rome, so many of the younger priests in Arlington remember him. Hopefully things will shape up there. I’m not so sure about Cleveland.

    As to Arlington, several years ago they stopped taking candidates over the age of 35. You suppose they’d reconsider?

  • There are a lot of reasons why these comparisons are unreliable—all having to do with varying standards of admission and preparation.

    One “dirty little secret” about vocational recruitment: some dioceses actively “poach” candidates from other dioceses, while others will accept outside candidates very readily, and still others are more cautious.

    By poaching I mean actively recruiting candidates from other dioceses—as opposed to letting the candidates come to them.

    While one might commend a diocese for casting a wide net, this practice has a downside: candidates go shopping for a diocese, and may not have the best attitude entering the seminary: “my way or the highway.”

    Also, if a candidate chooses a diocese because of perceived advantages—such as the quality of the bishop, or the seminary, or a general climate—they may find that this changes along the way, and then where are they? Or, they discover aspects of the diocese they hadn’t considered. Result: unhappiness.

    Third, a candidate who becomes a priest for a diocese to which he has little connection may find other reasons to be unhappy—family and friends are far away, he doesn’t feel totally at home, and so forth.

    When my father was in his final decline, I was very grateful to be 30 miles away, rather than 300.

    So, while I don’t take anything away from many dioceses’ good efforts on vocations, when you see those numbers, keep in mind some of the reasons some dioceses may have yielded larger numbers.

  • In re: to the question of Altar server stats

    I don’t think you will ever find a convincing statistic about the effects of being an Altar boy on discerning a vocation to the priesthood because of the vast variety of experiences that boys have as Altar boys. I was talking to a high school chaplain yesterday who was lamenting that, after he puts in so much effort into teaching these kids their faith and get them to go to Mass, he often finds that his work is undermined by the Liturgy and preaching at parish Masses.

    Also as with any vocation, the vocation to the priesthood is supposed to be nurtured at home before all other places.  I personally was raised in a family that put great emphasis on the Altar, growing up it seemed the mysterious place that it is, as a result I always believed in the real presence and got angry when I saw how people treated the Sanctuary like a living room.  In my parish I think had I been an altar boy I may have lost some of this sense of the sacred. 

    In contrast to my experience growing up, another priest I know quite well, in Maryland, runs an Altar boys group at his parish which because of his orthodoxy and priestly witness has already discovered one vocation and in the next decade may discover a half dozen more. In the context of this experience of serving at the altar there is a real correlation between serving at the altar and vocational discernment. His childrens choir also has had a vocation or two.

  • That’s illogical. Whether they were native-born or immigrants to this country, they’re still residents of the place. The history of Catholicism in the US is the history of immigrants. In my grandparents’ day, it was Italian and Irish priests who either came here as priests or came here as children with their families and grew up to become priests.

  • This is awesome data that I’ve been wishing I had the time to research and compile myself for years. One of the things that I think would be helpful is to try to avoid small sample size problems by attempting to categorize dioceses in several Orthodoxy/Orthopraxy categories (perhaps 3), then looking at the aggregate numbers. From scanning the numbers, I suspect that you’ll find that extremely liberal dioceses as a whole will not show well, though I agree that the distinction is not as clear as I would have thought.

    Small numbers (30 or less) are extremely prone to pollution by all sorts of factors having nothing to do with the practices of the diocese with regard to ordination.

    FWIW, I see no great importance in the distinction between native born and foreign born seminarians. SOMETHING attracted those 336 men to become priests in Chicago and not…say….Los Angeles.


  • Okay, that is a fair critique. Although our article did not focus that closely on any one diocese, when we do our followup I will ask the reporter to do some analysis of the ratio of native to non-native seminarians (also distinguishing between foreign-born and non-native American.) If those figures are available that is. Some of this information can be devilishly difficult to get and some dioceses aren’t willing to give it up.